Issue Advocacy and Third Parties in the United Kingdom and Canada

By Feasby, Colin | McGill Law Journal, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Issue Advocacy and Third Parties in the United Kingdom and Canada


Feasby, Colin, McGill Law Journal


Mitigating the effect on the electoral process of uneven financing in election campaigns has been accepted in both Europe and Canada as a valid and pressing objective of election regulations. The means undertaken by the U.K. and Canada to achieve this objective, however, which include the regulation of third party issue advocacy, are constitutionally problematic. Issue advocacy, which refers to election-time advertising that is ostensibly non-partisan, is a common feature of the electoral landscape in the U.K. and Canada. The problem for election financing arises with respect to so-ca]lad sham issue advocacy. Sham issue advocacy is issue advocacy that is but a thinly disguised attack on, or promotion of, a candidate or political party. As such, sham issue advocacy threatens the integrity of political finance regulations because it destabilizes the equilibrium created by expenditure limits on candidates and political parties. The legislatures of the U.K. and Canada have attempted to deal with this problem through the extension of political finance legislation to third party issue advocacy simpliciter, as evidenced in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 of the U.K. and in the Canada Elections Act.

This article begins by reviewing the egalitarian justification for limiting the election expenditures of third parties that was accepted by the European Court of Human Rights in Bowman v. United Kingdom and by the Supreme Court of Canada in Libman v. Quebec. The author then moves on to the more difficult problem of regulating issue advocacy, which was dealt with by the Alberta Queen's Bench in Harper v. Canada. The author draws on this case to argue that the extension of political finance legislation to third party issue advocacy is problematic in constitutional regimes that place a high value on political expression. Indeed, third party issue advocacy restrictions in the U.K. and Canada arguably contravene both the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and cannot be remedied by judicial interpretation. The author concludes by suggesting viable issue advocacy regulations that are both effective and consistent with the legal protections of political expression in the U.K. and Canada.

L'attenuation des effets du financement inegal des campagnes electorales sur le processus electoral est vu comme un objectif valide et urgent de reglementation tant en Europe qu'au Canada. Cependant, les moyens utilises au Royaume-Uni et au Canada pour atteindre cet objecfif, tels que le controle legislatif des campagnes faites par des tiers sur des enjeux politiques et sociaux particuliers (third party issue advocacy), sont problematiques sur le plan constitutionnel. Ces << campagnes d'enjeux >>, qui referent a la publicite electorale d'apparence non partisane, sont un aspect commun du paysage electoral du Royaume-Uni et du Canada. Le probleme se pose cependant en situation de << fausse >> campagne d'enjeux (sham issue advocacy). La fausse campagne d'enjeux constitue une maniere subtile et deguisee d'attaquer ou de promouvoir, selon le cas, un candidat ou un parti politique. A ce titre, la fausse campagne d'enjeux menace l'integrite du controle des finances politiques car elle destabilise l'equilibre cree par les limites de depenses admises pour les candidats et les partis politiques en periode electorale. Les legislatures du Royaume-Uni et du Canada ont tente de traiter ce probleme en etendant le controle legislatif des finances politiques aux tiers impliques dans les campagnes d'enjeux, comme en font foi le Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act 2093 (R.-U.) et la Loi electorale du Canada.

Cet article examine d'abord la justification egalitaire elaboree par la Cour europeenne des droits de l'homme dens la decision Bowman c. Royaume-Uni, puis par ha Cour supreme du Canada dens la decision Libman c. Quebec, pour limiter les depenses des tiers en cours de campagne electorale. …

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